American Ultra

Director: Nima Nourizadeh (2015)

Slackers, spies and sleeper agents get their brains fried in this darkly comic stoner thriller.

Though it takes a while to find a groove, once the story sparks up and the thrills kick in, the entertainment escalates and acheives a riotous velocity.

Sweet-natured slackers Mike and Phoebe share a drug dependancy and matching tattoos. Unfortunately Mike has a tendency to keep making a hash of their romance.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart give the couple a sweetly combustible chemistry.

Unknown to himself, Mike’s a lethal sleeper agent, a guinea pig in the CIA’s Ultra programme designed to turn criminals into expert killing machines.

However the scheme is judged a failure and Topher Grace’s spy boss decides to shut down the programme by terminating the assets.

What the chief lacks in menace he makes up with obnoxious energy.

Connie Britton plays a rival spook who tries to give her one-time charge a fighting chance. She uses a safe word to unlock the training buried deep in Mike’s psyche.

She’s played by Victoria Lasseter on far better form than in the poor Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015).

When two agents arrive to kill his buzz and end his life, Mike freaks himself out with the lethal ferocity of his response.

Together with a surprisingly resourceful Phoebe, they face a desperate mission to survive, leaving burnt out buildings and dead bodies in their wake.

The sneaky soundtrack lulls with soft Hawaiian sounds before launching an ear-shattering assault to complement the bloody and bone crunching violence.

A truckful of assassins, drone strikes and a big box of fireworks all fan the flames of the smouldering fun.

Mike’s a stoned version of Jason Bourne and Eisenberg’s performance squeezes the concept for some decent laughs.

Matt Damon was 32 when he first played Robert Ludlum’s all action anti-hero, Eisenberg is 31.

Stewart is full of fierce defiance and equally good, despite being lumbered with the role of  girlfriend in peril. She slyly sports Franka Potente’s red hair from The Bourne Identity (2002).

As fun as Eisenberg is, it’s a shame he and Stewart didn’t swap roles. A hell bent Phoebe would have added to this year’s joyously bumper crop of kick ass cinematic heroines.

With an hawaiian-shirted hero on the run with a girl in a world of drugs, guns and comic books, American Ultra is clearly influenced by True Romance (1993).

Though it similarly includes a cloud of falling feathers it lacks Tony Scott’s visual lyricism and Quentin Tarantino’s dynamite dialogue.

Made on a reasonable budget of $30M, American Ultra is armed with a keen sense of the ridiculous, offers plenty of juiced up action, some laughs and a couple of recognisable faces.

So it’s surprising it hasn’t found more of an audience in the US where it’s only scored for $11M after ten days on release.

If the US poster ads are as terribly unrepresentative of the movie as the UK ones are, then I’d be tempted to place the blame of lack of interest at the publicists.

While it’s not an outstanding movie it is a worthwhile entertainment, hopefully one which will gain traction on other platforms and find the audience it deserves.


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